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August 30, 2022

Creating a Positive Mental Health Culture in the Workplace

The working world has seen a shift in recent years to focus on the mental and physical well-being of employees. Most big companies now have plans in place to tackle mental health issues that arise in and out of the workplace — but given their relative size, it can be tough for SMEs and startups to support their workers in the same way.

As a relatively small startup, we know the struggle. Figuring out where resources should be put, and ensuring everyone’s concerns are heard, can be tough when you’re first starting out — but the importance is paramount. The first step is to address the culture and discourse around mental health in the workplace to ensure every employee feels supported.

Ultimately, the well-being of employees directly affects the well-being of the company — so really it’s a no-lose situation to keep everyone happy, healthy, and content in the workplace. According to this report, “FTSE 100 companies that prioritise employee engagement and wellbeing outperform the rest of the FTSE 100 by 10 percent.”

“Smart employers know that organisations perform better when staff are healthy, motivated, and focused. Research consistently shows that when employees feel their work is meaningful, and they are valued and supported, they tend to have higher wellbeing levels, be more committed to the organisation’s goals, and, importantly, they perform better too.” — MIND

We’ve written before about the shocking physical effects that mental health can have, which then feeds into physical health in a seemingly endless loop. Myriad factors could be negatively affecting employees in the workplace — long hours, mounting pressures, unmanageable workloads, poorly managed physical environments, bad communication, job insecurity, and even loneliness.

These factors are even more difficult to identify and change when working remotely, so frequent check-ins with all staff are vital. Temperature checks aside, there are myriad routes and resources to help you, your employees, and your company not just survive, but thrive.

Leading by example

First thing’s first — look after yourself. You can’t expect to help others to swim if your head’s barely above water, so be sure to put your own mental health first. Whatever your position, from CEO to junior workers, we all have a duty of care to ourselves first, and our mental and physical well-being will often have a knock-on effect on those around us.

“The same applies to mental health. If helping others constantly comes at the expense of your own mental and physical well-being, you may eventually become exhausted, frustrated and burned out.” — Champion Health

Taking regular breaks will help reduce stress, and also give you some space to find clarity after stressful situations. If you work remotely, be sure to give yourself some time before and after meetings to decompress and avoid fatigue.

If you have any employees working under your care, it’s important to set a healthy example. Leading by example isn’t just about the work you do, but also the way you carry it out. If those in senior positions are overworked and stressed — employees working under them may begin to see this as the only route forward.

Gone are the ‘grin and bear it’ days of old — opening up about your own stressors can be encouraging to all those working under you to do the same. Facilitating a safe space where workers feel comfortable opening up is the first step and given the prevalence and severity of the issue at hand, it’s one that should be taken as soon as humanly possible.

“Data from the Workplace Health Report: 2022 revealed that 58% of workers are experiencing symptoms of anxiety, 52% of workers are experiencing symptoms of depression, and 67% are experiencing moderate-to-high levels of stress.”

It’s incredibly unlikely that there are zero issues in any company, so if you’re unaware of them, you may just be asking the wrong questions.

Lending a helping hand

Work culture starts from the top, and there’s a trickle-down effect that should be natural, yet deliberate. This doesn’t mean pushing things under the rug — but finding healthy ways to communicate, disagree, and share.

Reaching out to colleagues above and below you can be a great way to positively influence the culture, even if their well-being is not your responsibility. Take care not to pry, as this may cause more harm than good — simply opening the door is often enough.

Warning signs are easy to miss, particularly if you work remotely, so offer an ear wherever you can — trusting your instincts will go a long way. Energy and performance will naturally ebb and flow, but if the tide is out too long, there could be something more serious going on behind closed doors.

“Talking can be a way to cope with a problem you’ve been carrying around in your head for a while. Just being listened to can help you feel supported and less alone. And it works both ways. If you open up, it might encourage others to do the same.” — Mental Health Foundation

Giving employees a forum to discuss stressors amongst one another without worrying about repercussions can also help to alleviate stress. Sometimes staff members just need to vent to someone that understands their point of view.

Remember that professional services exist for a reason, though — and sometimes issues need resolving with their help. Don’t put it all on yourself to fix things, as good as your intentions may be, you may not be qualified to handle everything alone.

The importance of self-care

Talking about issues and stressors is one positive way to influence work culture, but there are also some physical changes to be encouraged. We’re not saying that these are cures by any stretch — but they can help to alleviate stress.

Employees should be allowed to be active wherever they can throughout the day — especially if they’re sat at a desk for 8+ hours of the day. If you work from home, allocate some time to go for a walk, or nip out to the gym before the swathes come in at peak times.

There’s a freedom to flexible working that can really open you up to a healthy and fulfilling lifestyle — and this should always be encouraged from above. If you’re a manager or CEO, take care to understand the physical and mental health of your workers when scheduling.

Physical health can, and often will, inform mental health (though of course, it isn’t the sole factor by any stretch), so be sure to keep it as a priority for both yourself and anyone under your care. Employees should always be praised for prioritising health.

It probably doesn’t warrant mentioning that a healthy diet can impact mental health and well-being — but we all love a big mac, so we won’t start preaching about it here. Care packages with healthy food could, however, encourage employees to make healthier choices.

These should always be optional to mitigate food waste, of course. It’s a light nudge in the right direction, as opposed to a holier-than-thou approach that pushes blame onto employees. Remember, you’re not here to judge, just listen and help wherever you can.

There are countless other ways to encourage and support a positive mental health culture in the workplace — we’ve only just scratched the surface here. Stay tuned for part two, where we’ll be discussing what actionable steps companies can and should be taking to ensure the physical and mental well-being of their staff. 💜

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